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The daughter of the vicar at St. Luke's Church in the village of Hodnet, Mary Cholmondeley spent much of the first thirty years of her life taking care of her sickly mother. Members of her family were involved in the literary world, notably her uncle Reginald Cholmondeley who was a friend of the American novelist, Mark Twain.Growing up, Mary Cholmondeley liked to tell stories to her siblings and turned to writing fiction as an escape from the monotony of her daily routine. Her diary showed that by the age of 18 she was already convinced she would never marry, lacking, she believed, the looks and the charms necessary to attract a suitable mate. Novelist, Rhoda Broughton introduced her to George Bentley of Richard Bentley and Son, prominent London book publishers who had published some of the early works of Charles Dickens.Cholmondeley's first book was published under the title, Her Evil Genius and shortly thereafter in 1886, her second work The Danvers Jewels earned her a small, but respectable following. In 1896 her family moved to the village of Condover temporarily before settling permanently in London where she wrote the 1899 satirical novel, Red Pottage for which she is best remembered.Although shy because of her isolated background, she became friends with some of the well know literary figures of the time and in addition to more than a dozen novels, Cholmondeley wrote essays, articles and short stories.
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“He put our lives so far apart
We cannot hear each other speak.”
“The lawyer’s deed
To them, and to their heirs
Who shall succeed,
“Here is the land,
Shaggy with wood,
With its old valley,
Mound and flood.
But the heritors?” . . .
“La pire des mésalliances est celle du coeur.”
Colonel Tempest and his miniature ten-year-old replica of himself had made themselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit in opposite corners of the smoking carriage. It was a chilly morning in April, and the boy had wrapped himself in his travelling rug, and turned up his little collar, and drawn his soft little travelling cap over his eyes in exact, though unconscious, imitation of his father. Colonel Tempest looked at him now and then with paternal complacency. It is certainly a satisfaction to see ourselves repeated in our children. We feel that the type will not be lost. Each new edition of ourselves lessens a natural fear lest a work of value and importance should lapse out of print.
Colonel Tempest at forty was still very handsome; and must, as a young man, have possessed great beauty before the character had had time to assert itself in the face; before selfishness had learned to look out of the clear grey eyes, and a weak self-indulgence and irresolution had loosened the well-cut lips.
Colonel Tempest, as a rule, took life very easily. If he had fits of uncontrolled passion now and then, they were quickly over. If his feelings were touched, that was quickly over too. But today his face was clouded. He had tried the usual antidotes for an impending attack of what he would have called “the blues,” by which he meant any species of reflection calculated to give him that passing annoyance which was the deepest form of emotion of which he was capable. But Punch and the Sporting Times, and even the comic French paper which Archie might not look at, were powerless to distract him today. At last he tossed the latter out of the window to corrupt the morals of trespassers on the line, and, as it was, after all, less trouble to yield than to resist, settled himself in his corner, and gave way to a series of gloomy and anxious reflections.
He was bent on a mission of importance to his old home, to see his brother who was dying. His mind always recoiled instinctively from the thought of death, and turned quickly to something else. It was fourteen years since he had been at Overleigh, fourteen years since that event had taken place which had left a deadly enmity of silence and estrangement between his brother and himself ever since. And it had all been about a woman. It seemed extraordinary to Colonel Tempest, as he looked back, that a quarrel which had led to such serious consequences—which had, as he remembered, spoilt his own life—should have come from so slight a cause. It was like losing the sight of an eye because a fly had committed trespass in it. A man’s mental rank may generally be determined by his estimate of woman. If he stands low he considers her—heaven help her—such an one as himself. If he climbs high he takes his ideal of her along with him, and, to keep it safe, places it above himself.
Colonel Tempest pursued the reflections suggested by an untaxed intellect of average calibre which he believed to be profound. A mere girl! How men threw up everything for women! What fools men were when they were young! After all, when he came to think of it, there had been some excuse for him. (There generally was.) How beautiful she had been with her pale exquisite face, and her innocent eyes, and a certain shy dignity and pride of bearing peculiar to herself. Yes, any other man would have done the same in his place. The latter argument had had great weight with Colonel Tempest through life. He could not help it if she were engaged to his brother. It was as much her fault as his own if they fell in love with each other. She was seventeen and he was seven and twenty, but it is always the woman who “has the greater sin.”
He remembered, with something like complacency, the violent love-making of the fortnight that followed, her shy adoration of her beautiful eager lover. Then came the scruples, the flight, the white cottage by the Thames, the marriage at the local register office. What a fool he had been, he reflected, and how he had worshipped her at first, before he had been disappointed in her; disappointed in her as the boy is in the butterfly when he has it safe—and crushed—in his hand. She might have made anything of him, he reflected. But somehow there had been a hitch in her character. She had not taken him the right way. She had been unable to effect a radical change in him, to convert weakness and irresolution into strength and decision; and he had been quite ready to have anything of that sort done for him. During all those early weeks of married life, until she caught a heavy cold on her chest, he had believed existence had been easily and delightfully transformed for him. He was susceptible. His feelings were always easily touched. Everything influenced him, for a time; beautiful music, or a pathetic story for half an hour; his young wife for—nearly six months.
A play usually ends with the wedding, but there is generally an after-piece, ignored by lovers but expected by an experienced audience. The after-piece in Colonel Tempest’s domestic drama began with tears, caused, I believe, in the first instance by a difference of opinion as to who was responsible for the earwigs in his bath sponge. In the white cottage there were many earwigs. But even after the earwig difficulty was settled by a move to London, other occasions seemed to crop up for the shedding of those tears which are known to be the common resource of women for obtaining their own way when other means fail; and others, many others, suggested by youth and inexperience and a devoted love had failed. If they are silent tears, or worse still, if the eyelids betray that they have been shed in secret, a man may with reason become much annoyed at what looks like a tacit reproach. Colonel Tempest became annoyed. It is the good fortune of shallow men so thoroughly to understand women, that they can see through even the noblest of them; though of course that deeper insight into the hypocrisy practised by the whole sex about their fancied ailments, and inconveniently wounded feelings for their own petty objects, is reserved for selfish men alone.
Matters have become very wrong indeed, when a caress is not enough to set all right at once; but things came to that shocking pass between Colonel and Mrs. Tempest, and went in the course of the next few years several steps further still, till they reached, on her part, that dreary dead level of emaciated semi-maternal tenderness, which is the only feeling some husbands allow their wives to entertain permanently for them; the only kind of love which some men believe a virtuous woman is capable of.
How he had suffered, he reflected, he who needed love so much. Even the advent of the child had only drawn them together for a time. He remembered how deeply touched he had been when it was first laid in his arms, how drawn towards its mother. But his smoking-room fire had been neglected during the following week, and he could not find any large envelopes, and the nurse made absurd restrictions about his seeing his wife at his own hours, and Di herself was feeble and languid, and made no attempt to enter into his feelings, or show him any sympathy, and—
Colonel Tempest sighed as he made this mournful retrospect of his married life. He had never cared to be much at home, he reflected. His home had not been made very pleasant to him; the poor meagre home in a dingy street, the wrong side of Oxford Street, which was all that a young man in the Guards, with expensive tastes, who had quarrelled with his elder brother, could afford. The last evening he had spent in that house came back to him with a feeling of bitter resentment at the recollection of his wife’s unreasonable distress when a tradesman called after dinner for payment of a longstanding account which she had understood was settled. It was not a large bill he remembered wrathfully, and he had intended to keep his promise of paying it directly his money came in, but when it came he had needed it, and more, for his share of the spring fishing he had taken cheap with a friend. Naturally he would not see the man whose loud voice, asking repeatedly for him, could be heard in the hall, and who refused to go away. Colonel Tempest had a dislike to rows with tradespeople. At last his wife, prostrate, and in feeble health, rose languidly from her sofa, and went down to meet the recriminations of the unfortunate tradesman, who, after a long interval, retired, slamming the door. Colonel Tempest heard her slow step come up the stair again, and then, instead of stopping at the drawing-room door, it had gone toiling upwards to the room above. He was incensed by so distinct an evidence of temper. Surely, he said to himself with exasperation, she knew when she married him that she was marrying a poor man.
She did not return: and at last he blew out the lamp, and lighting the candle put ready for him, went upstairs, and opening the door of his wife’s room, peered in. She was sitting in the dark by the black fireplace with her head in her hands. A great deal of darkness and cold seemed to have been compressed into that little room. She raised her head as he came in. Her wide eyes had a look in them of a dumb unreasoning animal distress which took him aback. There was no pride nor anger in her face. In his ignorance he supposed she would reproach him. He had not yet realized that the day of reproaches and appeals, very bitter while it lasted, was long past, years past. The silence of those who have loved us is sometimes eloquent as a tombstone of that which has been buried beneath it.
The room was very cold. A faint smell of warm india-rubber and a molehill in the middle of the bed showed that a hot bottle was found more economical than coal.
“Why on earth don’t you have a fire?” he asked, still standing in the doorway, personally aggrieved at her economies. Di’s economies had often been the subject of sore annoyance to him. An anxious housekeeper in her teens sometimes retrenches in the wrong place, namely where it is unpalatable to the husband. Di had cured herself of this fault of late years, but it cropped up now and again, especially when he returned home unexpectedly as today, and found only mutton chops for dinner.
“It was the coal bill that the man came about this evening,” she said, apathetically, and then the peculiar distressed look giving place to a more human expression, as she suddenly became aware of the reproach her words implied, she added quickly, “but I am not the least cold, thanks.”
Still he lingered; a sense of ill-usage generally needs expression.
“Why did not you come back to the drawing-room again?”
There was no answer.
“I must say you have a knack of making a man’s home uncommonly pleasant for him.”
Still no answer. Perhaps there were none left. One may come to an end of answers sometimes, like other things—money, for instance.
“Is my breakfast ordered for half-past seven, sharp?”
“Yes, and stewed kidneys. I hope they will be right this time. And I’ve told Martha to call you at seven punctually.”
“All right. Good night.”
That had been their parting in this world, Colonel Tempest remembered bitterly, for he had been too much hurried next morning to run up to say good-bye before starting for Scotland. Those had been the last words his wife had spoken to him, the woman for whom he had given up his liberty. So much for woman’s love and tenderness.
And as the train went heavily on its way, he recalled, in spite of himself, the last home-coming after that month’s fishing, and the fog that he shot into as he neared King’s Cross on that dull April morning six years ago. He remembered his arrival at the house, and letting himself in and going upstairs. The house seemed strangely quiet. In the drawing-room a woman was sitting motionless in the gaslight. She looked up as he came in, and he recognized the drawn, haggard face of Mrs. Courtenay, his wife’s mother, whom he had never seen in his house before, and who now spoke to him for the first time since her daughter’s marriage.
“Is that you?” she said, quietly, her face twitching. “I did not know where you were. You have a daughter, Colonel Tempest, of a few hours old.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“And Di?” he asked. “Pretty comfortable?”
The question was a concession to custom on Colonel Tempest’s part, for, like others of his enlightened views, he was of course aware that the pains of childbirth are as nothing compared to the twinge of gout in the masculine toe.
“Diana,” said the elder woman, with concentrated passion, as she passed him to leave the room—“Diana, thank God, is dead!”
He had never forgiven Mrs. Courtenay for that speech. He remembered even now with a shudder of acute self-pity all he had gone through during the days that followed, and the silent reproach of the face that even in death wore a look not of rest, but of a weariness stern and patient, and a courage that has looked to the end and can wait.
And when Mrs. Courtenay had written to offer to take the little Diana off his hands altogether provided he would lay no claim to her later on, he had refused with indignation. He would not be parted from his children. But the child was delicate and wailed perpetually, and he wanted to get rid of the house, and of all that reminded him of a past that it was distinctly uncomfortable to recall. He put the little yellow-haired boy to school, and, when Mrs. Courtenay repeated her offer, he accepted it; and Di, with her bassinette and the minute feather-stitched wardrobe that her mother had made for her packed inside her little tin bath, drove away one day in a four-wheeler straight out of Colonel Tempest’s existence and very soon out of his memory.
His marriage had been the ruin of him, he said to himself, reviewing the last few years. It had done for him with his brother. He had been a fool to sacrifice so much for a pretty face, and she had not had a shilling. He had chucked away all his chances in marrying her. He might have married anybody; but he had never seen a woman before or since with a turn of the neck and shoulder to equal hers. Poor Di! She had spoilt his life, no doubt, but she had had her good points after all.
Poor Di! Perhaps she too had had her dark hours. Perhaps she had given love to a man capable only of a passing passion. Perhaps she had sold her woman’s birthright for red pottage, and had borne the penalty, not with an exceeding bitter cry, but in an exceeding bitter silence. Perhaps she had struggled against the disillusion and desecration of life, the despair and the self-loathing that go to make up an unhappy marriage. Perhaps in the deepening shadows of death she had heard her new-born child cry to her through the darkness, and had yearned over it, and yet—and yet had been glad to go.
However these things may have been, at any rate, she had a turn of the neck and shoulder which lived in her husband’s memory. Poor Di!
Colonel Tempest shook himself free from a train of reflections which had led him to a death-bed, and suddenly remembered with a shudder of repugnance that he was on his way to another at this moment.
His brother had not sent for him. Colonel Tempest was hazarding an unsolicited visit. He had announced his intention of coming, but he had received no permission to do so. Nevertheless he had actually screwed up his weak and vacillating nature to the sticking point of putting himself and his son into the train when the morning arrived that he had fixed on for going to Overleigh.
“For the sake of the old name, and for the sake of the boy,” he said to himself, looking at the delicate regular profile silhouetted against the window-pane. If Archie had had a pair of wings folded underneath his little great-coat, he would have made a perfect model for an angel, with his fair hair and face, and the sweet serious eyes that contemplated, without any change of expression, his choir book at chapel, or the last grappling contortions of a cockroach, ingeniously transfixed to the book-ledge with a pin, to relieve the monotony of the sermon.
“Overleigh! Overleigh! Overleigh!” called out a porter, as the train stopped. Colonel Tempest started. There already! How long it was since he had got out at that station! There was a new station-master, and the station itself had been altered. He looked at the little red tin shelter erected on the off-side with an alien eye. It had not been there in his time. There was no carriage to meet him, although he had mentioned the train by which he intended to arrive. His heart sank a little as he took Archie by the hand and set out to walk. The distance was nothing, for the station had been made specially for the convenience of the Tempests, and lay within a few hundred yards of the castle gates. But the omen was a bad one. Would his mission fail?
How unchanged everything was! He seemed to remember every stone upon the road. There was the turn up to the village, and the low tower of the church peering through the haze of the April trees. They passed through the old Italian gates—there was a new woman at the lodge to open them—and entered the park. Archie drew in his breath. He had never seen deer at large before. He supposed his uncle must keep a private zoological gardens on a large scale, and his awe of him increased.
“Are the lions and the tigers loose too?” he inquired, with grave interest, but without anxiety, as his eyes followed a little band of fallow deer skimming across the turf.
“There are no lions and tigers, Archie,” said his father, tightening his clasp on the little hand. If Colonel Tempest had ever loved anything, it was his son.
They had come to a turn in the broad white road which he knew well. He stopped and looked. High on a rocky crag, looking out over its hanging woods and gardens, the old grey castle stood, its long walls and solemn towers outlined against the sky. The flag was flying.
“He is still alive,” said Colonel Tempest, remembering a certain home-coming long ago, when, as he galloped up the steep winding drive, even as he rode, the flag dropped half-mast high before his eyes, and he knew his father was dead.
They had reached the ascent to the castle, and Colonel Tempest turned from the broad road, and struck into a little path that clambered upwards towards the gardens through the hanging woods. It was a short cut to the house. It was here he had first seen Diana, and he pondered over the fidelity of mind which, after fourteen years, could remember the exact spot. There was the wooden bridge over the stream where she had stood, her white gown reflected in the water below her, the heart of the summer woods enfolding her like the setting of a jewel. The seringa and the laburnum were out. The air was faint with perfume. She stood looking at him with lovely surprised eyes, in her exceeding youth and beauty. Involuntarily his mind turned from that first meeting to the last parting seven years later. The cold, dark, London bedroom, the bowed figure in the low chair, the fatigued smell of tepid india-rubber. What a gulf between the radiant young girl and the woman with the white exhausted face! Alas! for the many parts a woman may have to play in her time to one and the same man. Colonel Tempest laughed harshly to himself, and his powerful mind reverted to the old refrain, “What fools men are to marry.”
It had been summer when he had seen her first, but now it was early spring. The woods were very silent. God was making a special revelation in their heart, was turning over one more page of His New Testament. He had walked once again in His garden, and at the touch of His feet, all young sheaths and spears of growing things were stirring and pressing up to do His will. The larch had hastened to hang out his pink tassels. The primroses had been the first among the flowers to receive the Divine message, and were repeating it already in their own language to those that had ears to hear it. The folded buds of the anemones had heard the whisper Ephphatha, and were opening one after another their pure shy eyes. The arched neck of the young bracken was showing among the brown ancestors of last year. The marsh marigolds thronged the water’s edge. Every battered dyke and rocky scar was transfigured. God was once again making all things new.
Only a mole, high on its funeral twig, held out tiny human hands, worn with honest toil, to its Maker, in mute protest against a steel death “that nature never made” for little agriculturists. Death was still in the world apparently, side by side with the resurrection of the flowers. Archie paused to glance contemptuously and shy a stick at the corpse as he passed. It looked as if it had not afforded much sport before it died. Colonel Tempest puffed a little, for the ascent was steep, and he was not so slim as he had once been. He sat down on a circular wooden seat round a yew tree by the path. He began to dislike the idea of going on. And, perhaps, after all, he would be told by the servants that his brother would not see him. Jack was quite capable of making himself disagreeable to the last. Really, on the whole, perhaps the best course would be to go down the hill again. It is always so much easier to go down than to go up; so much pleasanter at the moment to avoid what may be distasteful to a sensitive mind.
“Archie,” said Colonel Tempest.
The boy did not hear him. He was looking intently at a little patch of ground near the garden seat, which had evidently been carefully laid out by a landscape-gardener of about his own age. Every hair of grass or weed had been scratched up within the irregular wall of fir cones that bounded the enclosure. Grey sand imported from a distance, possibly from the brook, marked winding paths therein, in course of completion. A sunk bucket with a squirt in it, indicated an intention, as yet unmatured, to add a fountain to the natural beauties of the site.
“You go in this way, father,” said Archie, grasping the situation with becoming gravity, and pointing out the two oyster shells that flanked the main entrance, “then you walk round the lake. Look; he has got a duck ready. Oh, dear! and see, father, here is his name. I would have done it all in white stones if it had been me. J. O. H. N. John. Father, who is John?”
Colonel Tempest’s temper was like a curate’s gun. You could never tell when it might not go off, or in what direction. It went off now with an explosion. It had been at full cock all the morning.
“Who is John?” he repeated, fiercely kicking the letters on the ground to right and left. “You may well ask that. John is a confounded interloper. He has no right here. Damn John!”
Archie was following the parental boot with anxious eyes. The tin duck was dinted in on one side, and bulged out on the other in a manner painful to behold. It would certainly never swim again. The turn of the squirt might come any moment. But when his father began to say damn, Archie had always found it better not to interfere.
“Come along, Archie,” said Colonel Tempest, furiously, “don’t stand fooling there,” and he began to mount the path with redoubled energy. All thought of turning back was forgotten.
Archie looked back ruefully at the devastated pleasure-grounds. The fir cone boundary was knocked over at one corner. All privacy was lost; anything might get in now, and the duck, if she recovered, could get out. It was much to be regretted.
“Poor damn John,” said Archie, slipping his hand into that of the grown-up child whom he had for a father.
“Poor John!” echoed Colonel Tempest, his temper evaporating a little, “I only wish it were poor John; and not poor Archie. That was your garden, Archie, do you hear, my boy—yours, not his. And you shall have it, too, if I can get it for you.”
“I don’t want it now,” said Archie, gravely; “you’ve spoilt it.”
“And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul.”—JOB xxi. 25.
A profound knowledge of human nature enunciated the decree, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house,” and relegated the neighbour’s wife to a back seat among the servants and live stock.
The intense love of a house, passing the love even of prohibited women, is a passion which those who “nightly pitch their moving tents” in villas and hired dwellings, and look upon heaven as their home, can hardly imagine, and frequently regard with the amused contempt of ignorance. But where pride is a leading power the affections will be generally found immediately in its wake. In these days it is the fashion, especially of the vulgar-minded well-born, to decry birth as being of no account. Those who do so, apparently fail to perceive that, by the very fact of decrying it, they proclaim their own innate lack of appreciation of those very advantages of refinement, manners, and a certain distinction and freemasonry of feeling, which birth has evidently withheld from them personally, but which, nevertheless, birth alone can bestow. The strong hereditary pride of race which is as natural a result of time and fixed habitat as the forest oak—which is bred in the bone and comes out in the flesh from generation to generation—is accompanied, as a rule, by a passionate love, not of houses, but of the house, the home, the eyrie, the one sacred spot from which the race sprang.
Among the Tempests devotion to Overleigh had been an hereditary instinct from time immemorial. Other possessions, gifts of royalty, or dowers of heiresses came and went. Overleigh remained from generation to generation. Scapegrace Tempests squandered the family fortune, and mortgaged the family properties, but others rose up in their place, who, whatever else was lost, kept fast hold on Overleigh. The old castle on the crag had passed through many vicissitudes. It had been originally built in Edward II.‘s time, and the remains of fortification, and the immense thickness of the outer walls, showed how fierce had been the inroads of Scot and Borderer which such strength was needed to repel. The massive arched doorway through which the yelling hordes of the Tempests and their retainers swooped down, with black lion on pennant flying, upon the enemy, was walled up in the time of the Tudors, and the vaulted basement with its acutely pointed chamfered arches became the dungeons of the later portion of the building; the cellars of the present day.
Overleigh had entertained royalty royally in its time, and had sheltered royalty more royally still. Cromwell’s cannon had not prevailed against it. It had been partially burnt, it had been partially rebuilt. There it still stood, a glory, and a princely possession on the lands that had been meted in the Doomsday book to a certain Norman knight Ivo de Tempête, the founder of an iron race. And in the nineteenth century a Tempest held it still. Tempest had become a great name. Gradually wealth had gathered round Overleigh, as the lichen had gathered round its grey stones. There were coal-mines now among the marsh-lands of William the Conqueror’s favourite, harbours and towns along the sea-coast. Tempest of Overleigh was a power, a name that might be felt, that had been felt. The name ranked high among the great commoners of England. Titles and honours of various kinds had been offered it from time to time. But for a Tempest, to be a Tempest was enough. And Overleigh Castle had remained their solitary dwelling-place. Houses were built for younger sons, but the head of the family made his home invariably at Overleigh itself. There were town houses in London and York, but country seats were not multiplied. To be a Tempest was enough. To live and die at Overleigh was enough.
Some one was dying at Overleigh now. Mr. Tempest had come to that pass, and was taking it very quietly, as he had taken everything so far, from the elopement of his betrothed with his brother fourteen years ago, to the death of his poor, pretty faithless wife in the room where he was now lying; the round oak-panelled room, which followed the outer wall of the western tower; the room in which he had been born, where Tempests had arrived and departed, and lain in state. And now after a solitary life he was dying, as he had lived, alone.
He had gone too far down the steep path which leads no man knows whither, to care much for anything that he was leaving behind. He had not read his brother’s letter announcing his coming. It lay with a pile of others for some one hereafter to sort or burn. Mr. Tempest had done with letters, had done with everything except Death. The pressure of Death’s hand was heavy on him, upon his eyes, upon his heart. He had been a punctual man all his life. He hoped he should not be kept waiting long.
Colonel Tempest followed the servant with inward trepidation across the white stone hall. He had been at once admitted, for it was known that Mr. Tempest was dying, and the only wonder in the minds of nurse and doctor and servants was that his only brother had not arrived before. The servant led the way along the picture-gallery. A child was playing at the further end of it under the Velasquez; or, to speak more correctly, was looking earnestly out of one of the low mullioned windows. The voice of the young year was calling him from without, as the spring calls only the young. But he might not go out today, though there were nests waiting for him, and holiday glories in wood and meadow that his soul longed after. He had been told he must stay in, in case that stern silent father who was dying should ask for him. John did not think he would want him, for when had he ever wanted him yet? but he remained at his post at the window, breathing his silent longing into a little mist on the pane.
He looked round as Colonel Tempest and Archie approached, and then came gravely forward, and put out a strong little brown hand.
Colonel Tempest just touched it without speaking, and turned his eyes away. He could not trust himself to look again at the erect dignified little figure with its square dark face. When had there ever been a dark Tempest?
The two boys, near of an age, looked each other straight in the eyes. Archie was the younger and the taller of the two.
“Are you John?” he asked at once.
“No. John Amyas Tempest.”
“Archie,” said Colonel Tempest, who had grown rather pale, “you can stay here with——, until I send for you.” And with one backward glance at them, he followed the servant to an ante-room, where the doctor presently came to him.
“I am his only brother,” said Colonel Tempest hoarsely. “Can I see him?”
“Certainly, my dear sir, certainly; but at the same time all agitation, all tendency to excitement, must be rigorously avoided.”
“Is he really dying?” interrupted Colonel Tempest.
“How long has he?” Colonel Tempest felt as if a hand were tightening round his throat. The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
“Three hours. Five hours. He might live through the night. I cannot say.”
“There would be time,” said Colonel Tempest to himself; and, not without a shuddering foreboding that his brother might die in his actual presence, without giving him time to bolt, he entered the sick-room, from which the doctor had beckoned the nurse, and closed the door.
The room was full of light, for the dying man had been oppressed by the darkness in which he lay, and a vain attempt had been made to alleviate it by the flood of April sunshine which had been let into the room. Through the open window came the rapture of the birds.
Mr. Tempest lay perfectly motionless with his eyes half closed. His worn face had a strong family resemblance to his brother’s, with the beauty left out.
“Jack!” said Colonel Tempest.
Mr. Tempest heard from an immense distance, and came painfully back across long wastes and desert places of confused memories, came slowly back to the room, and the dim sunshine, and himself; and stopped short with a jarred sense as he saw his own long feeble hands laid upon the counterpane. He had forgotten them, though he recognized them now he saw them again. Why had he returned?
“Jack,” said the voice again.
Mr. Tempest opened his eyes suddenly, and looked full at his brother—at the false, weak, handsome face of the man who had injured him.
It all came back, the passion and the despair; the intolerable agony of jealousy and baffled love; and the deadly, deadly hatred. Fourteen years ago was it since Diana had been taken from him? It returned upon him as though it were yesterday. A light flamed up in the dying eyes before which Colonel Tempest quailed.
All the sentences he had prepared beforehand seemed to fail him, as prepared sentences have a way of doing, being made to fit imaginary circumstances, and being consequently unsuited to any others. Mr. Tempest, who had not prepared anything, had the advantage.
“Curse you,” he said, in his low, difficult whisper. “You damned scoundrel!”
Colonel Tempest was shocked. To bear a grudge after all these years! Jack had always been vindictive! And what an unchristian state of mind for one on the brink of that nightmare of horror, the grave! He was unable to articulate.
“What are you here for?” said Mr. Tempest, after a pause. “Who let you in? Why can’t I be allowed to die in peace?”
“Oh, don’t talk like that, Jack!” gasped Colonel Tempest, speaking extempore, after fumbling in all the empty pockets of his mind for something appropriate to say. “I am sure I am very sorry for——” A look warned him that even his tactful reference to a certain subject would be resented. “But, it’s all past and gone now, and—it’s a long time ago, and you’re——”
“Dying,” suggested Mr. Tempest.
“ . . . and,” hurried on Colonel Tempest, glad of the lift, “it’s not for my own sake I’ve come. But I’ve got a boy, Jack; he is here now. I have brought him with me. Such a fine, handsome boy—every inch a Tempest, and the image of our father. I don’t want to speak for myself, but for the sake of the boy, and the place, and the old name.”
Colonel Tempest hid his quivering face in his hands. He was really moved.
The sick man’s mouth twitched; he evidently understood his brother’s incoherent words.
“John succeeds,” he said.
The two men looked away from each other.
“John is not a Tempest,” said Colonel Tempest, in a choked voice. “You know it—everybody knows it!”
“He was born in wedlock.”
“Yes; but he is not your son. You would have divorced her if she had lived. He is the legal heir, of course, if you countenance him; but something might be done still—it is not too late. I know the estate goes, failing you and your children, to me and mine. Don’t bear a grudge, Jack. You can’t have any feeling for the child—it’s against nature. Remember the old name and the old place, that has never been out of the hands of a Tempest yet. Don’t drag our honour in the dust and put it to open shame! Think how it would have grieved our father. Let me call in the doctor and the nurse, and disown him now before witnesses. Such things have been done before, and may be again. I can contest his claim then; I shall have something to go on. And you must have proofs of his illegitimacy if you will only give them. But there will be no chance if you uphold him to the last, and if—and if you—die—without speaking.”
Mr. Tempest made no answer except to look his brother steadily in the face. The look was sufficient. It said plainly enough, “That is what I mean to do.”
Colonel Tempest lost all hope, but despair made one final clutch—a last desperate appeal to his brother’s feelings. It is one of the misfortunes of self-centred people that their otherwise convenient habit of disregarding what is passing in the minds of others, leads them to trample on their feelings at the very moment when most desirous of turning them to their own account. Colonel Tempest, with the best intentions of a pure self-interest, trampled heavily.
“Pass me over—cut me out,” he said, with a vague inappreciation of points of law. “I’ll sign anything you please; but let the little chap have it—let Archie have it—Di’s son.”
There was a silence that might be felt. Approaching death seemed to make a stride in those few breathless seconds; but it seemed also as if a determined will were holding him momentarily at arm’s length. Mr. Tempest turned his fading face towards his brother. His eyes were unflinching, but his voice was almost inaudible.
“Leave me,” he said. “John succeeds.”
The blood rushed to Colonel Tempest’s head, and then seemed to ebb away from his heart. A sudden horror took him of some subtle change that was going forward in the room, and, seeing all was lost, he hastily left it.
The two boys had fraternized meanwhile. Each, it appeared, was collecting coins, and Archie gave a glowing account of the cabinet his father had given him to put them in. John kept his in an old sock, which he solemnly produced, and the time was happily passed in licking the most important coins, to give them a momentary brightness, and in comparing notes upon them. John was sorry when Colonel Tempest came hurriedly down the gallery and carried Archie off before he had time to say good-bye, or to offer him his best coin, which he had hot in his hand with a view to presentation.
Before he had time to gather up his collection, the old doctor came to him, and told him, very gravely and kindly, that his father wished to see him.
John nodded, and put down the sock at once. He was a person of few words, and, though he longed to ask a question now, he asked it with his eyes only. John’s deep-set eyes were very dark and melancholy. Could it be that his mother’s remorse had left its trace in the young unconscious eyes of her child? Their beauty somewhat redeemed the square ugliness of the rest of his face.
The doctor patted him on the head, and led him gently to Mr. Tempest’s door.
“Go in and speak to him,” he said. “Do not be afraid. I shall be in the next room all the time.”
“I am not afraid,” said John, drawing himself up, and he went quietly across the great oak-panelled room and stood at the bedside.
There was a look of tension in Mr. Tempest’s face and hands, as if he were holding on tightly to something which, did he once let go, he would never be able to regain.
“John,” he said, in an acute whisper.
“Yes, father.” The child’s face was pale and his eyes looked awed, but they met Mr. Tempest’s bravely.
“Try and listen to what I am going to say, and remember it. You are a very little boy now, but you will hold a great position some day—when you are a man. You will be the head of the family. Tempest is one of the oldest names in England. Remember what I say”—the whisper seemed to break and ravel down under the intense strain put on it to a single quivering strand—“remember—you will understand it when you are older. It is a great trust put into your hands. When you grow into a man, much will be expected of you. Never disgrace your name; it stands high. Keep it up—keep it up.” The whisper seemed to die altogether, but an iron will forced it momentarily back to the grey toiling lips. “You are the head of the family; do your duty by it. You will have no one much to help you. I shall not—be there. You must learn to be an upright, honourable gentleman by yourself. Do you understand?”
“And you will—remember?”
“Yes, father.” If the lip quivered, the answer came nevertheless.
“That is all; you can go.”
The child hesitated.
“Good night,” he said gravely, advancing a step nearer. The sun was still streaming across the room, but it seemed to him, as he looked at the familiar, unfamiliar face, that it was night already.
“Don’t kiss me,” said the dying man. “Good night.”
And the child went.
Mr. Tempest sighed heavily, and relaxed his hold on the consciousness that was ready to slip away from him, and wander feebly out he knew not whither. Hours and voices came and went. His own voice had gone down into silence before him. It was still broad daylight, but the casement was slowly growing “a glimmering square,” and he observed it.
Presently it flickered—glimmered—and went out.
“As the foolish moth returning
To its Moloch, and its burning,
Wheeling nigh, and ever nigher,
Falls at last into the fire,
Flame in flame;
So the soul that doth begin
Making orbits round a sin,
Ends the same.”
It was a sultry night in June rather more than a year after Mr. Tempest’s death. An action had been brought by Colonel Tempest directly after his brother’s death, when the will was proved in which Mr. Tempest bequeathed everything in his power to bequeath to his “son John.” The action failed; no one except Colonel Tempest had ever been sanguine that it would succeed. Colonel Tempest was unable to support an assertion of which few did not recognize the probable truth. No proof of John’s suspected illegitimacy was forthcoming. His mother had died when he was born; it was eleven years ago. The fact that Mr. Tempest had mentioned him by name as his son in his will was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The long-delayed blow fell at last. A verdict was given in favour of the little schoolboy.
“I’m sorry for you, I am, indeed,” said Mr. Swayne, composedly watching Colonel Tempest flinging himself about his little room, into which the latter had just rushed, nearly beside himself at the decision of a bribed and perjured court.
Mr. Swayne was a stout, florid-looking man between forty and fifty, with a heavy face like a grimace that some one else had made, who laboured under the delusion, unshared by any of his fellow-creatures, that he was a gentleman. In what class he had been born no one knew. What he was now any one could see for himself. He was generally considered by the men with whom he associated a good fellow for an ally in a disreputable pinch, and a blackguard when the pinch was over. Every one regarded Dandy Swayne with contempt, but for all that “The Snowdrop,” as he was playfully called, might be seen in the chambers and at the dinners of men far above him in the social scale, who probably for very good reasons tolerated his presence, and for even better reviled him behind his back. He had a certain shrewdness and knowledge of the seamy side of human nature which stood him in good stead. He was a noted billiard player—a little too noted, perhaps. His short, thick ringed hands did not mind much what they fastened on. He was not troubled by conscientious scruples. The charm of Dandy Swayne’s character was that he stuck at nothing. He would go down any sewer provided there was money in it, and money there always was somewhere in everything he took in hand. Dandy Swayne’s career had had strange ups and downs. No one knew how he lived. The private fortune on which he was wont to enlarge of course existed only in his own imagination. Sometimes he disappeared entirely for longer or shorter periods—generally after money transactions of a nature that required privacy and foreign travel. But the same Providence which tempers the wind to the shorn lamb watches over the shearer also, and he always reappeared again, sooner or later, with his creased white waistcoat and yesterday’s gardenia, and the old swagger that endeared him to his fellow-creatures.
He was up in the world just now, living “in style” in smart chambers strewn with photographs of actresses, and littered with cheap expensive furniture, and plush hangings redolent of smoke and stale scent, among which Colonel Tempest was knocking about in his disordered evening dress.
“I’m sorry for you, Colonel,” repeated Mr. Swayne, slowly; “but I wish to —— you’d sit down and not rush up and down like that. It’s not a bit of good taking on in that way, though it’s —— —— luck all the same.”
Mr. Swayne’s conversation was devoid of that severe simplicity which society demands; indeed, it was so encrusted and enriched with ornamental gems of expression of a surprising and dubious character, that to present his conversation to the reader without the personal peculiarities of his choice of language is to do him an injustice which, however unavoidable, is much to be regretted. Mr. Swayne’s conversation without his oaths might be compared to a bird without its feathers; the body is there, but all individuality and beauty of contour is gone.
Mr. Swayne filled his glass, and pushed the bottle across to his friend, whose flushed face and shaking hand showed that he had had enough already. Colonel Tempest sat down impatiently and filled his glass, too.
“It’s the will that did it, I suppose,” suggested Mr. Swayne; “that tipped it over.”
“Yes,” said Colonel Tempest, striking his clenched hand on the table. “My son John he called him in his will; there was no getting over that. He knew it when he put those words in. He knew I should contest the succession, and he hated me so that he perjured himself to keep me out of my own, and stuck to it even on his death-bed. John is no more his son than you are. A little dark Fane, that is what he is. They say he takes after his mother’s family; he well may do, —— him!”
Mr. Swayne sympathetically echoed the sentiment in a varied but not less forcible form of speech.
“And my son,” continued Colonel Tempest, his fair weak face whitening with passion—“you know my boy; look at him—a Tempest to the backbone, down to his finger-nails. You can’t look at him among the pictures in the gallery and not see he is bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. He is as like the Vandyke of Amyas Tempest the cavalier as he can be. It drives me mad to think of him, cut out by a bastard!”
Mr. Swayne appeared to be in a meditative turn of mind. He watched the smoke of his cigar curl upwards from the unshaved crater of his lip into the air.
“You’re in the tail, I suppose?” he remarked at last.
“Of course I am. If my brother John died without children, everything was to come to me and my heirs. My brother had only a life interest in the place.”
“Then I don’t see how he was to blame, doing as he did, if it was entailed all along on his son.” Mr. Swayne spoke with a certain cautious interest.
“He never had a son. If he had disowned his wife’s child, everything would have come to me.”
“Lor!” said Mr. Swayne, “I did not understand it was so near as that. Then this little chap, this John, he’s all that stands between you and the property, is he? Failing him, it still comes to you?”
Mr. Swayne’s small tightly-wedged eyes, with the expression of dissipated boot-buttons, were beginning to show a gleam of professional interest.
“Yes, it would; but John won’t fail,” said Colonel Tempest, savagely. “He will keep us out. We shall be as poor as rats as long as we live, and shall see him chucking our money right and left!” and Colonel Tempest, who was by this time hardly responsible for what he said, ground his teeth and cursed his enemy in a paroxysm of rage and drink. Mr. Swayne observed him attentively.
“Don’t take on so, Colonel,” he remarked soothingly. “Dear me, what’s a little boy?—What’s a little boy here or there,” he continued, meditatively, “one more or one less? There’s a sight of little kids in the world; some wanted, some not. I’ve known cases, Colonel”—here he fixed his eyes on the ceiling—“cases with parents, maybe, singing up in heaven and takin’ no notice, when little chaps that weren’t wanted, that nobody took to, seemed to—meet with an accident, get snuffed out by mistake.”
“John won’t meet with an accident,” said Colonel Tempest passionately. “I wish to —— he would!”
“I look at it this way,” said Mr. Swayne, philosophically. “There’s things gentlemen can do, and there’s things they can’t. A gentleman is a party that can’t do his dirty work for himself, though as often as not he has a deal on his hands that must be shoved through somehow. The thing is to find parties who’ll take what I call a personal interest, if it’s made worth their while. Now about this little boy, that no one wants, and is a comfort to nobody. It’s quite curious the things little boys will do; out in boats alone, outriggers now, as dangerous as can be, or leaning out of railway carriages in tunnels. Lor! you never know what they won’t be up to, little rascals. They’re made of mischief. Forty thousand a year, is it, he is keeping you out of, and yours by right? Well, I don’t say anything about that; but all I say is, I have friends I can find that are open to a bet. What’s the harm of betting a thousand pounds to one sovereign that you never come into the property? It ain’t likely, as you say. What’s the harm of a bet, provided you don’t mind risking your money? Let’s say, just for the sake of—of argument, that there was ten bets—ten bets at a thousand to one that you never come in. Ten thousand pounds to pay, if you come in after all. What’s ten thousand pounds to a man with forty thousand a year?” Mr. Swayne snapped his fingers. “And no trouble to nobody. Nothing to do but to pay up quietly when the time comes. It don’t concern you who takes up the bets, and you don’t know either. You know nothing at all about it. You lay your money, and, look here, Colonel, you mark my words, some way or somehow, some time or other, that boy will disappear.”
The two men looked steadily at each other. Colonel Tempest’s eyes were bloodshot, but Mr. Swayne had all his wits about him; he never became intoxicated, even at the expense of others, if there was money in keeping sober.
“Curse him!” said Colonel Tempest in a hoarse whisper. “He should not get in my light.”
The child was to blame, naturally.
Mr. Swayne did not answer, but went to a side table, on which were pens, ink, and paper. Some things, if done at all, are best done quickly.
“After the red pottage comes the exceeding bitter cry.”
Fifteen years is a long time. What companies of trite reflections crowd the mind as it looks back across the marshes and the fens, and the highlands and the lowlands, and the weary desert places, to some point that catches the eye in the middle distance! We stood there once. Perhaps we go back in memory—all the way back—to that little town and spire in the green country, and pray once again in the cool vision-haunted church, and peer up once again at the window in the narrow street where Love lived and looked out, where patience and affection dwell together now. They were always friends, those two.
Or perhaps we look back to a parting of the ways which did not seem to be a parting at the time, and recall a “Good-bye” that was lightly uttered because it was only thought to be Au revoir. We see now, from where we stand, the point where the paths diverged.
They have not passed very smoothly over the head of Colonel Tempest. Whenever he looked back across the breezy uplands of his well-spent life, his eye avoided and yet was inevitably attracted with a loathing allurement to one dark spot in the middle distance, where——
Fifteen years ago or yesterday was it?
The old nightmare, with the shuddering horror of yesterday mingled with the heavy pressure of years, might come back at any moment—was always coming back.
That sultry night in June!
Everything was disjointed and fragmentary in his memory the morning after it; he could not see the whole. He had a confused recollection of an intense passionate hatred that was like a physical pain, and of Swayne’s voice saying, “What’s a little boy?” And then there were slips of paper. Swayne said a bet was a bet. He, Colonel Tempest, had had something to do with those slips of paper—What?—One had fallen on the floor, and Swayne had blotted it carefully. There was Swayne’s voice again, “Your handwriting ain’t up to much, Colonel.” He had written something then. What was it? His own name? Memory failed. Who was that devil in the room, with Swayne’s face and blurred watch-chain—two watch-chains—and the thick busy hands? And then it was night, and he was in the streets again in the hot darkness, among the blinking lamps and stars that looked like eyes, and Swayne was seeing him home. And there was a horror over everything; horror leant over him at night, horror woke him in the morning and pursued him throughout the day, and the next day, and the next. What had he done? He tried to piece together the broken fragments that his groping memory could glean; but nothing came of it—at least, nothing he could believe. But Swayne knew. On the third day he could bear it no longer, and he went to find him; but Swayne had disappeared. Colonel Tempest went up to his chambers on the pretence of a letter—of something; he knew not what. They were swept and garnished in readiness for new arrivals, for if one choice spirit disappears, a good landlady knows what to expect.
Colonel Tempest looked once round the room, and then sat feebly down. It was as if for days he had been staring at a blank sheet, and now a dark slide had been suddenly taken from the magic lantern. The picture was before him in all its tawdry distinctness. He knew what he had done.
Colonel Tempest was not a radically bad man. Who is? But there was in him a kind of weakness of fibre which consists in being subservient to the impulse of the moment. The effects of a feeble yielding to impulse are sometimes hardly to be distinguished from those of the most deliberate and thorough-paced sin.
He was conscious of good in himself, of a refined dislike to coarseness and vice even when he dabbled in it, of vague longings after better things, of amiable, even chivalrous, inclinations towards others, especially towards women not of his own family. In his own family, where there had always been, even in his mother’s time, some feminine weakness or imperfection for a manly nature to point out and ridicule, of course courtesy and tenderness could not be expected of him.
Thus at each juncture of his life he was obliged to justify what he would have called his failings, what some would have called sins, by laying the blame on others, and by this means to account for the glaring discrepancy between the inward and spiritual gracefulness of his feelings and the outward and visible signs of his actions.
A man with such good impulses, such an affectionate nature, cannot be a sinner. If there was one thing more than another that Colonel Tempest thoroughly believed in, it was in his affectionate nature. He might have his faults, he was wont to say, but his heart was in the right place. If things went amiss, the fault was in the circumstance, in the temptation, in the unfortunate character of those with whom his life was knit. Weakness has its superstition, and superstition its scapegoat. His father had spoilt him. His wife had not understood him. His brother had played him false. Swayne had tempted him.
What have not those to answer for who teach us in language, however spiritual, however orthodox, to lay our sins on others—on any other except ourselves!
After the first shock of panic, of terror lest he had done something for which he might eventually have to suffer, Colonel Tempest struggled back to the well-worn position, now clutched with both hands, that he had been betrayed in a moment of passion by a fiend in human shape, and that, if—anything happened, Swayne was the most to blame.
Still they were dreadful days at first—dreadful weeks in which he suffered for Swayne’s sin. And Swayne seemed to have disappeared for good—or perhaps for evil.
And then—gradually—inasmuch as nothing had power to affect him for long together, the horror lightened.
The sun rose and set. The world went on. A year passed. Archie wrote for money from school. Things took their usual course. Colonel Tempest had his hair cut as usual; he observed with keen regret that it was thinning at the top. Life settled back into its old groove.
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